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Editorial: Scope of eugenic surgery compensation must be broadened

A national survey has only identified the names of 3,033 people subjected to sterilization surgeries under the now-defunct eugenic protection law (1948-1996). However, this is a mere 12 percent of some 25,000 people who are believed to have undergone the procedure, which mainly targeted individuals with physical disabilities, mental illnesses and hereditary diseases.

These findings were the result of a Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare probe asking municipal governments to turn over records concerning such surgeries. However, the majority of the documentation on these forced operations, operations that constitute extreme human rights violations against citizens by the state, no longer exists. Municipal governments' lack of awareness about the need to protect human rights, as well as the sloppiness in managing the relevant records, should once again face public criticism.

A working group under the ruling coalition in tandem with a multipartisan group of Diet members is scheduled to put together a reparations program to compensate these victims possibly by the end of this year. However, a framework is needed to help those individuals subjected to surgeries for which no records are extant.

The governing bloc working group is considering having the compensation program extend to cases where the person themselves can present scars from the eugenic operations and testify about the operation they allegedly underwent. But this route runs the risk of decreasing the number of those eligible for the compensation depending on what standards of proof are used in each case and how the evidence is interpreted by officials.

It is no easy task to confirm if a scar was the result of an operation that took place decades ago. In cases where the victims have intellectual disabilities, their understanding of the situation at the time and ability to communicate their experience may impede their ability to give clear testimonies about the surgeries.

There are also many people who will not apply for compensation on their own even if their names do appear on the surviving records of sterilization surgeries. These people will remain silent for a variety of reasons -- a lack of information about the possibility of redress, poor memory of the operation itself, or fear of having their ordeal revealed to those around them.

Of those who underwent the eugenic operations, 8,518 people are said to have given their consent. However, a relatively large number of them may have done so without a complete understanding of the circumstances they faced at the time and gave their consent on paper only. The names of people who allegedly gave their consent were not identified, but they should also be covered by the compensation system under discussion.

In addition, there were also women who had their uteruses removed or people who received sterilization surgeries without going through legal government channels. These victims were not covered by the latest ministry survey.

During the 1950s, Diet members continued to ask questions which effectively demanded the forced sterilization of people with disabilities, and the Ministry of Health and Welfare -- the predecessor to the current health ministry -- issued multiple instructions to local governments to make sure the operations were thoroughly carried out. One ministry notice even allowed the use of physical restraints, anesthesia, deception, and other questionable methods in certain cases.

Even a 9-year-old girl was a victim of such an operation. Redress must be made on the premise that many people with disabilities were subjected to the procedure, even if the records of the surgeries no longer exist.

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